Today is when my dear friend Anita makes her stop here at the Test Kitchen as part of her whirlwind virtual book tour that had started last week.
I have always been an admirer of Anita’s gorgeous blog, Desserts First. I was fortunate to meet her last year in San Francisco when I was there to take some cooking classes. Anita is a graduate of the Tante Marie Cooking school pastry curriculum. Taking the course enabled her to evolve from being an occasional baker to a skilled professional. She is as eloquent in person as she is on her blog – her eyes gleaming with enthusiasm as we discussed our addiction to cookbooks.
Below is a picture of me and Anita in San Francisco.
That was in August 2007.
What she didn’t know then was the following October she was offered the chance to write her own published book of delicious sweets.
Quirk Publishing found Anita through her blog. It is the publishing house behind the Field Guide Books – handy little reference-type volumes that cover a single topic extensively yet concisely. In this case they wanted Anita to write a Field Guide to Cookies – and can she do it in 8 months?
It was a tough deadline but she was up to the task. She quit her full-time job at the BitterSweet Chocolate Café and picked up some part-time consultancy work at an engineering firm - work she had held in a life before pastry– so she would have more time to focus on the book.
At first, she was obsessed over the text of each cookie recipe, wanting to have it perfect the first time. She finally realized that continual back and forth with her editor about revisions, and additions were all part of the process.
Anita’s Field Guide to Cookies is as precious in its handy size as it is educational in the wealth of its content. I have never heard of the many different cookies in the book but they sound endearingly familiar in one reincarnation or another. For example the Mandelbrot appears to be a twin of the more popular Italian biscotti, and they are indeed related – adapted by Eastern European Jews who made them usually with oil instead of butter to keep them “non-dairy”.
The book is divided into four categories: Drop cookies where the batter is scooped by a spoon and dropped on a cookie sheet, bar cookies are baked whole in a pan and cut like brownie, molded cookies are ones whose dough are shaped into a mold and finally rolled cookie dough are shaped into a log and then cut. Each cookie is accompanied by a description and a brief history. Little icons denoting cooking tools or serving suggestions are deftly incorporated as little annotations to the instructions.
Mouthwatering photographs, positioned strategically in the center of the book, are handy in determining how a cookie’s end result will look like.
I asked Anita if she was to pick one cookie, a Sophie’s choice cookie, what it will be. She paused but a moment before she said: Palmiers. These are cookies made with puff pastry shaped to resemble elephant ears. Historically, Palmiers were created to make use of scraps from leftover puff pastry. They can be dressed simply with sugar or made fancier with crushed nuts. In any case they make great desserts for parties.
So with a book under her cap, what’s next for Anita? She already has another book underway – the topic of which she will reveal in a few months. She is also teaching a three-day class, Cakes and Cupcakes, at the Tante Marie Cooking school. Anita said that the owner of the school, Mary Risley, likes to invite former graduates to come back and teach. Anita says it is a great opportunity for her to experiment and understand her craft even more by teaching other people.
For my part, I was torn with which cookie to bake. Shall I make the banana chocolate chip cookies or her version of green tea cookies that use rice flour? I was all set to make financiers – those delicious almond teacakes that are the mainstays of high tea, but my eyes caught the apple crumb bars. And on a cold windy day, there was nothing more comforting than the scent of apples and cinnamons wafting from the oven.
You’ll all have to excuse my less than stellar picture of the crumb bars…I made it on a Sunday just when Day light Savings time fell back and did not have enough natural light to take the picture.
Apple Crumb Bars
From Field Guide to Cookies by Anita Chu
3 large tart apples, such as Granny Smith
3 tbs. softened unsalted butter
½ cup sugar
2 tbs. lemon juice
2 tbs. all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
6 tbs. softened unsalted butter
¾ cup light brown sugar
½ cup sugar
2/3 cup plus 2 tbs. all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. salt
6 tbs cold unsalted butter, diced
¼ cup chopped walnuts
For the filling: Peel, core and chop the apples in ½ inch cubes. Set aside in a bowl.
Melt butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat.
Add the apples and sauté for about 8 minutes until the apples are semi-soft.
Add the sugar, lemon juice, flour, and cinnamon to the apples and stir to combine.
Cook until mixture begins to bubble, then turn heat to low and cook for another 3 mintues, stirring constantly. Transfer filling to a bowl and let cool while you make the crust.
For the crust: Line a 9 by 13 inch pan with aluminum foil, leaving enough to hang over the edge to form handles for removing bars after baking. Grease foil with cooking spray.
Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl and set aside.
In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together on medium speed for several minutes until light and fluffy. Add eggs and mix to combine.
Add flour mixture and mix to combine.
Pour the dough into the prepared pan and gently press into the bottom of the pan and about ¼ inch up the sides, making sure it is level. Set pan aside while you make the streusel.
Preheat oven to 350F.
For the streusel: In a stand mixer, combine sugar, flour, and salt and mix to combine.
Add the butter, mix until crumbly and the butter pieces are very small.
Add the walnuts and mix just to combine.
Spread cooled apple filling evenly over the crust, leaving about ¾ inch between the pan sides and the filling.
Sprinkle the streusel evenly over the filling.
Bake for about 35 minutes until the top layer is golden.
Cool completely on wire rack before removing. Cut into 1-inch by 3-inch bars.
And don’t forget to check the delicious blogs on the book tour schedule:
Nov. 11th - Jen of Use Real Butter
Nov. 12th - Ari of Baking and Books
Nov. 13th - Sara of Ms. Adventures in Italy
Nov. 14th - Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice
Nov. 17th - Helen of Tartelette
Nov. 18th - Moi
Nov. 19th - Aran of Canelle and Vanille
Nov. 20th - Bea of La Tartine Gourmande
Nov. 21st - Peabody of Culinary Concoctions Peabody